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    Is Biden’s border move too little, too late?
    • June 13, 2024

    President Joe Biden’s announcement of executive action aimed at strengthening the Southern border is surely a welcome – albeit belated – development, considering the migrant crisis plaguing cities across the country.

    However, this order – which shuts down the asylum system if the average number of daily encounters hits 2,500 and only reopens once encounters fall to 1,500 – is unlikely to significantly move the needle in Biden’s favor.

    Put another way, while this is a step in the right direction, this move, which seems overtly political, coming this close to the election, may be too little too late.

    To that end, as encounters between migrants and U.S. law enforcement have surged from roughly 850,00 in 2019 – the last pre-pandemic year under Trump – to a peak of almost 2.5 million in 2023, the border has become a significant political vulnerability for Biden. 

    A single executive order, coming five months before the election, is unlikely to fix that, given how long-running disapproval of Biden’s handling of the border has been.

    Recent polling underscores the uphill challenge it will be for Biden to convince voters that he has the right approach to immigration and the border, despite this executive order. A dismal one-quarter (25%) of voters approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, per Emerson polling conducted in June.

    Indeed, immigration is often cited as a top-3 issue for voters, and as tracked polling from Harvard/Harris reveals, since May 2022, immigration has consistently been an issue where Biden’s approval is lowest.

    Further, across all public polls, Biden currently has a 32% average approval on immigration per RealClearPolitics polling averages. This is his second lowest approval rating on any issue tracked by RealClear, trailing other hot-button issues such as the economy (40%), foreign policy (36%), and inflation (35%).

    With that said, it isn’t simply that voters are unhappy with Biden’s handling of the border that poses a threat. Rather, it’s that a majority of voters strongly prefer Donald Trump and think he will do a better job.

    Trump has a 27-point lead (52% to 25%) among registered voters on the question of who would be better at handling immigration and border security, according to a recent Marquette University poll

    As CNN noted, this is a drastic reversal from this point in 2020, when the same poll showed Biden with a 1-point lead on the issue.

    Even among Latino voters, who are absolutely critical to Biden’s reelection in swing states like Nevada, Arizona, CNBC polling found that Trump led on immigration by a staggering 23-points.

    And while it is true that House Republicans share some blame for failing to pass a border bill earlier this year, Biden’s framing of this executive action as bypassing “Republican obstruction” are likely to fall on deaf ears. 

    Fair or not, the president is almost always held responsible for immigration and the border, and on this, Democrats have been steadily moving to the left of the national consensus for years. As recent as 2019, every Democratic presidential candidate, including Biden, said they support decriminalizing border crossings.

    In that same vein, by moving to the middle on this hot-button issue, Biden has inflamed tensions with the left-wing of his party, which has already begun pushing back. Two Democratic Representatives from California – Reps. Nanette Barragan and Judy Chu – expressed their “disappointment” in comments criticizing the new policy.

    Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Biden campaign surrogate, likewise criticized the order as “a functional ban on asylum.” Warren even broke with her state’s governor, Maura Healey, who stands to pay a bigger electoral price, given high levels of voter dissatisfaction with how she’s handling an influx of migrants to Massachusetts. 

    Moreover, the ACLU has already promised to sue in order to block this order, ironically forcing the Biden administration to defend similar asylum restrictions that then-President Trump attempted to enact in 2018.

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    Taken together, it does not appear that Biden did enough to improve perceptions of his immigration policies among moderates and Independents, nor will this be enough to effectively rebut Trump’s attacks in their upcoming debate.

    Part of the problem for Biden is that for three years, Americans have been unwavering in their concern about the Southern border. And even with Congressional stonewalling, Biden could have issued these orders at any time before the migrant crises metastasized  to the point of overwhelming even the most deep-blue states and became the vulnerability it now is.

    Ultimately, this is a band-aid on a much more serious problem that demands bipartisan legislation. As I wrote in these pages in February, our immigration system and border security have long needed sweeping reform that goes beyond the scope of an executive order.

    And while it remains to be seen what the true electoral impact is of Biden’s shift on the border, it seems unlikely that even this blatantly political move will be enough to overcome the challenges Biden and Democrats have vis-à-vis immigration. 

    Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

    ​ Orange County Register